Of all the natural disasters, volcanic eruptions are perhaps the most distinctive: they are dramatic yet potentially the most devastating, intimidating and awe-inspiring yet phenomena to behold and entail events that turn everything they touch into ashes. Also, while the relentless flow of lava and other hazardous materials coupled with the uncertainty associated with the next big eruption only create anguish in the scientific community, the extremely complex dynamics involved in the process render the mankind helpless.
Iceland is witnessing its biggest uninterrupted eruption in Bardarbunga, one of the 30 identified volcanic systems in the exotic country. The eruptions that began on August 31 are all set to dwarf the Nordic country’s Eyjafjallajökull eruption in April 2010, when volcanic ash, toxic gas and fumes clouded Europe for weeks causing substantial economic and societal disruptions. While the Eyjafjallajökull is estimated to have cost the global commercial airline industry a whopping $1.7 billion in revenue loss, analysts estimate the figures for the Bardarbunga not to be as high.
However, the cascading effects of the Bardarbunga could be far more damaging as the Icelandic Met Office has detected thousands of earthquakes in the Bardarbunga area even as melting glaciers – due to magma – pose serious flood threats in the island nation. Also, significantly higher levels of eruption pollution, mainly sulfur dioxide (SO2), have hit most parts of Iceland while volcanologist Haraldur Sigurðsson expects the Bardarbunga eruptions to end on March 4, 2015. Freysteinn Sigmundsson, a researcher at the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences told Newsweek that by October 1 the eruption had already spewed out more SO2 than any other Icelandic volcano in the past several hundred years.
According to National Geographic, the Bardarbunga “has spewed out enough molten rock so far to fill 740 Empire State buildings and has buried, on average, an area the size of an NFL football field every 5.5 minutes. At this rate, the lava flow will soon be larger than any seen for more than two centuries in the volcanically active island nation.” According to John Stevenson, the Bardarbunga could be “10 times smaller in terms of eruption rate, fire fountain height, and gas content,” than Iceland’s worst volcano the Laki eruption. However, the University of Edinburgh volcano researcher finds, “it’s pretty amazing.”
Yes. Amazing volcanoes are, as noted in the beginning of our discussion. It is equally true that their immediate economic impact and the medium- to long-term health and environmental effects make volcanic risk management a crucial requirement for governments and business establishments in both mature and emerging economies. Just as volcanic eruptions are distinctive natural events, the challenges associated with volcanic risk management are mostly unique.
As already stated, the dynamics involved in volcanic risk are quite complex, requiring dedicated commitment, superior resources and capable tools to analyze the aspects associated with volcanic risk management. Ensuring the availability of all these require substantive financial investment, which is not always possible for smaller businesses and those capable of investing in the cause often find reasons not to!
Organizations are usually unmindful about the potential hazards that could affect their employees, which in turn impacts productivity and performance. For example, due to the Bardarbunga eruption higher levels SO2 polluted most parts of Iceland with levels touching up to 500mµ/m3. In some areas, SO2 levels reportedly exceeded 600mµ/m3, a threshold people should abstain from working outdoors.
Satisfactory reduction of volcanic risks involves tackling several related aspects of risk management. They may include defining risk exposure limit; studying the risk tolerance levels of the organization and abiding by it or, if required, adopting measures to enhance the resistance; devising a disaster management plan; and post-disaster recovery, among others.
Authorities and enterprises often make the mistake of viewing the return of eruptions as a very low risk event as they do not usually recur within a short duration. However, viewing it as a low risk threat could cripple the entire risk management strategy of an organization as it will only take one occurrence to devastate the business irreparably. A sound risk management strategy would help prevent the temptation of starting or resuming a business in surrounding of eruption location.
In spite of the existence of these and other related challenges, authorities and corporates must realize that the economic cost of natural disasters such as volcanoes would only increase, due to rising population, rapid industrialization and development pressure. Reduction of vulnerability backed by a robust risk management strategy is going to be the key for ensuring businesses continuity from here on!
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